All you and I see is a scorched rocky terrain. But what NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sees is completely different, and new data collected by the craft could change the way we see Earth’s most mysterious neighbor. Under the pitted canyons, flatlands and chasms are a series of ancient water channels that are thought to have caused flooding over the last 500 million years, a period previously considered as cold and dry.
The biggest thing the information tells us is how the floods might have caused climate change on the Martian planet.
“Our findings show the scale of erosion that created the channels previously was underestimated and the channel depth was at least twice that of previous appoximations,” said Gareth Morgan, a geologist at the National air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and PLanetary Studies in Washington. “This demonstrates the importance of orbital sounding radar in understanding how water has shaped the surface of Mars.”
The channels were found in Elysium Planitia, which is one of Mars’ youngest volcanic regions and lies at the planet’s equator; it’s also where the 620-mile-long Marte Vallis channel system sits. The Orbiter was able to map out 3D images for scientists to better study how the channels formed in phases.
The mapping also provided sufficient information to establish the floods that carved the channels originated from a now-buried portion of the Cerberus Fossae fracture system. The water could have accumulated in an underground reservoir and been released by tectonic or volcanic activity.
By further understanding Mars’ underground channels, researchers will be able to better asses the planet’s hydrologic activity. And maybe one day figure out, if there was water, where the heck it all went.